This piece originally appeared on the Global Observatory that is run by the International Peace Institute.
Today marks the end of the fourth year of civil war in the youngest state on earth, South Sudan. Over the years, attempts to build a lasting peace agreement have faltered. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS)—facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—was signed by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former Vice President Riek Machar Teny in August 2015, but by July 2016 the deal broke apart after several days of heavy fighting between Kiir’s and Machar’s troops in Juba. Current attempts to revitalize the ARCSS, although welcome, face an array of obstacles. To overcome these and to avoid repeating the same mistakes that led to the demise of the ARCSS, new thinking and approaches are needed.
Obstacles to a Lasting Peace Agreement
The model of peacemaking thus far has been characterized as “big tent”: after several rounds of fighting lead to a stalemate, the government provides rebel leaders with an opportunity to control and disperse resources, and to integrate their militia into the national army. This policy formed the basis of the ARCSS. In June 2017, the IGAD council of ministers called for a “high-level revitalization forum” of the ARCSS. The initiative has support within the government and from all major opposition groups who have expressed their readiness to participate in the negotiations. However, IGAD diplomats face a delicate balancing act. Some provisions of the peace agreement, including the security arrangements, are clearly obsolete and need to be reviewed. At the same time, opening the whole agreement for renegotiation risks drawing out the process and potentially losing some of the commitments to constitutional reform, economic management, and transitional justice that are included.
More importantly, it is fundamentally unclear how “revitalization” will look. Since the July 2016 crisis, political and military realities have changed considerably. After Riek Machar fled the country, President Kiir appointed the opposition politician Taban Deng Gai to replace him. Yet the government’s expectation that he would be able to bring along opposition fighters with him has not been met. Most of Riek Machar’s troops remain loyal to him. His involvement in the process remains a major stumbling block for the negotiations. No one in the diplomatic community in Juba that I spoke to during a recent research trip expects Machar to return to Juba, after SPLA units tried to kill him twice, in 2013 and 2016. Accommodating Machar in the government thus seems impossible, though marginalizing him has also not worked.
The underlying problem remains the logic of dividing the spoils. Positions of authority in South Sudan have served the self-enrichment of office-holders and the accumulation of political budgets. As a result of the insecurity in the country and the macroeconomic crisis, the resources that could be allocated are becoming smaller. Moreover, the lack of accountability of officials and politicians is a core challenge that contributed to the outbreak of the civil war in the first place. If there is no overarching political vision for South Sudan, another purely transactional power-sharing deal will inevitably result in dissent and confrontation just as in 2016.
No Easy Solutions
The last few years have made clear that there are no quick fixes in South Sudan. No single process will be able to bring a comprehensive peace to the country in the foreseeable future. For the time being, a number of measures can be taken that may mitigate and contain the scale and brutality of the violence, and even create space for a long-term peace agreement.
The first is for IGAD mediators and international interlocutors to make clear that perpetrators will face justice. Looting, sexual violence, and mass atrocities need to have consequences. Regional support for asset freezes and anti-money laundering measures, for example, is growing. In September, the African Union Peace and Security Council warned that the revitalization process represented “a last chance for the Parties” and threatened unspecified sanctions against spoilers. After the United States strengthened its unilateral sanctions regime, the Kenyan Central Bank instructed its banks to implement asset freezes that the UN Security Council had passed in 2015.
Second, international actors, such as the Troika—the three-nation group supporting negotiations consisting of Norway, the UK, and the US—but also Germany and the EU, could lobby other countries for an informal arms embargo on South Sudan. US pressure has already stopped Sudanese arms deliveries for Machar’s troops. Engaging with Ukraine, Uganda, and Egypt, which the UN Panel of Experts sees as the government’s arms dealers, would be crucial as well. A commitment to a ceasefire at the beginning of the revitalization forum could provide the diplomatic backing for those states to reconsider their covert arms shipments.
Third, empowering civil society and other constructive forces will be crucial. The churches play a very important role in peacemaking and reconciliation as they are the only institutions with a reach in all corners of the country. They also have the patience and stamina to stay engaged when national and international actors have long left. Their biggest advantage is also a challenge though. Part and parcel of South Sudanese society, they are not immune to the polarization that has divided the country. Work on intercommunal conflicts by the churches, the UN mission, and non-governmental organizations needs donor support, including for targeted early recovery measures.
A Need for International Introspection
Finally, Western countries, and in particular the Troika, will contribute more positively to negotiations if they are aware of their own impact on the conflict and the peace process. For example, Troika acceptance of the replacement of Riek Machar with Taban Deng Gai lent legitimacy to the process. On the other hand, the rushed and failed effort of the US to expand the UN sanctions regime and create an arms embargo “gave Juba a degree of increased confidence,” in one Western diplomat’s perception. The government then continued its operations in Equatoria that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, and obstructed humanitarian access. Another example is the disappointment of South Sudanese civil society organizations when German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel stood them up during a visit in August 2017.
Ultimately, there is no silver bullet to ending the civil war in South Sudan. At the very least, international actors should ensure that their actions and omissions do not prolong the suffering, however unintentionally. Overcoming the tendency to broker conventional transactional power-sharing agreements would be an important start.
Gerrit Kurtz is a PhD candidate at King’s College London and a non-resident fellow with the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. His research focuses on conflict prevention diplomacy in South Sudan and Sri Lanka.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ prevention agenda builds upon the achievements of the ›Human Rights up Front‹ initiative launched by his predecessor. The initiative has created a more integrated early-warning system, strengthened the preventive work of UN Country Teams, and initiated a cultural change within the UN system. However, creating confidence between the different pillars of the UN system remains a challenge. Step by step, the new early-warning mechanisms at headquarter and country level will contribute to a more holistic understanding of the risks of grave human rights abuses, allowing a more coherent UN response.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has identified one overarching priority for his work: the prevention of human suffering. Specifically, Guterres envisions that the concept of prevention, and the mechanisms it entails, will be able to cut across and strengthen the UN’s three pillars: peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. In more concrete terms, Guterres builds on the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative, a key reform project introduced by his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, to strengthen the UN’s preventive capabilities.
The HRuF initiative targets the work of UN staff as well as cooperation among UN agencies. It emerged as a reaction to the perceived failure of the UN system as a whole during the last months of the war in Sri Lanka. Following this failure, the UN created new coordination mechanisms in the UN Secretariat; it sought to re-emphasize the human rights work of UN development agencies on the ground, and it bolstered existing instruments in order to support individual UN Country Teams with expert staff.
In his first appearance as secretary-general at the UN Security Council, Guterres said that neither war nor peace were inevitable. Peace, he insisted, is “the result of difficult decisions, hard work, and compromise”; to this end, prevention is “not merely a priority, but the priority” in order to “save lives, reduce suffering, and give hope to millions.” The HRuF initiative provides a cornerstone of this vision.
The Origins of Human Rights up Front
In November 2012, a UN internal review panel identified a “systemic failure” in the work of both the UN Country Team and the UN Secretariat during the last months of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2008 and 2009. The UN Country Team consists of all the agencies, funds, and programs working in a respective country, for example the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the World Bank. These organizations seek to fulfill their respective mandate as part of a comprehensive development framework that the UN has agreed on with the host country. A Resident Coordinator (RC) coordinates the overall work of these agencies; usually, the RC is also the head of the local UNDP office. In humanitarian emergencies, he or she takes on the additional function of Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) to manage the members of the Humanitarian Country Team.
Each of these organizations employs program- and analysis-staff related to their respective line of work, but the resources of the RC’s office for political analysis and diplomacy are typically very limited. While the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) in New York has analysts dealing with conflicts around the world, DPA is typically reluctant to share its information, and in the past, communication between DPA and UN Country Teams has been irregular. This fragmented structure has had difficulty producing coherent and effective human rights analysis for the UN Country Team on the ground.
This became especially clear in the case of Sri Lanka, where criticism of UN behavior during the last phase of the civil war was less directed towards individual people or organizations, but rather towards the UN’s institutional set-up as a whole. Each UN entity involved examined the situation primarily from its own perspective; there was no joint analysis of the risks and threats to civilian populations coming from the perspective of the entire UN system. While DPA performed an “excellent analysis of the risks,” the analysis and conclusions were seen as exclusively the conclusions of DPA. “No one else felt they should act on them,” a UN official briefed on the matter said in an interview. UN pressure to act on the DPA analysis would have been key, argued another UN official, to commit the parties in the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law.
Yet the conditions on the ground and within the institution made this kind of approach impossible. Coordination between UN agencies in New York and Geneva was lacking. There were too few people in the country versed in dealing with violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan government had repeatedly withheld work permits for UN staff members.
In January 2009, several members of the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka began counting civilian casualties on their own initiative, without an explicit institutional mandate. The Resident Coordinator presented the data to diplomatic missions in March 2009; but when the High Commissioner for Human Rights and diplomatic missions published them shortly thereafter, the RC played down their importance to the government. As a result, the UN as a whole sent mixed messages to the government, who was responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, according to the UN Country Team’s own information at the time.
At the same time, in New York, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes concentrated on maintaining humanitarian access to the conflict zone. He was the only one allowed to brief the members of the Security Council in informal sessions about the situation on the ground. Focusing on humanitarian access was part of his job description, yet this also meant that the Security Council members lacked an explicit human rights perspective from the Secretariat.
When the Executive Office of the Secretary-General studied the internal review panel’s report, it recognized that “a systemic failure needs a systemic solution,” explained Andrew Gilmour, who was overseeing the work in the office at the time, in an interview. The Sri Lankan crisis and the resultant analysis were thus the starting point for the Human Rights up Front initiative. In September 2013, Ban Ki-moon approved a detailed action plan, and in December of the same year, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the General Assembly on the initiative.
A Comprehensive Reform Package
The HRuF initiative has three overarching objectives: (1) enacting a cultural change in the UN system so that all UN staff see human rights as part of their work, (2) establishing better early warning and coordination mechanisms both in conflict countries as well as in New York, and (3) promoting more open engagement with UN member states on human rights.
The Human Rights up Front initiative is not simply concerned with individual action points. Rather, UN staff members are being encouraged to see themselves as part of a whole, instead of thinking only in terms of the narrow competences of their respective department, fund, programme, or agency. They should feel empowered to act on the basis of the normative principles of the United Nations – in particular on the pivotal issue of human rights. Summarizing the core message, former Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang noted that the UN’s work is “about the human beings,” whose challenges “are not subdivided into different mandates as the UN system is.”
The cultural change on systemic human rights engagement should come about through three main forms of action: public commitments by the UN leadership, training for all UN staff members, and a revised selection and appraisal system for Resident Coordinators. Thirteen thousand UN staff members have already undergone new human rights training through an online course. In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) now has an active role in the selection and regular appraisal of RCs. Furthermore, the UN Development Group has updated the generic job description for Resident Coordinators to include an emphasis on human rights and created new guidance on human rights work for RCs and UN Country Teams.
At the same time, everyone involved is aware that an organization of the size and complexity of the United Nations cannot change its culture overnight. Reforms need time to work in practice, and UN leadership needs to show that it stands behind the engagement of its staff members in crisis situations. In addition, the UN needs to make clear that leadership failure has consequences. Too often, senior UN officials are promoted rather than dismissed. Ban Ki-moon’s decision to ask the head of the UN mission in Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye, for his resignation when reports about sexual abuse and exploitations by French and UN peacekeeping troops in the country emerged in 2015 is a significant step in the right direction.
Early Warning and Coordination Mechanisms
Skeptical member states have typically been a major obstacle to the implementation of effective early warning mechanisms in the UN system. Many do not want to be faced with the prospect of risk ratings or of landing on the agenda of the UN Security Council, which might impose coercive measures in line with chapter seven of the UN Charter. Similarly, UN development agencies may be cautious or hesitant when it comes to monitoring the situation of human rights and other risk factors on the ground, as they work closely with host governments and seek to avoid drawing their ire.
The HRuF response to this challenge is to take a universal approach. The early warning mechanisms pertain to all member states, in particular those that are not on the agenda of the UN Security Council. For this purpose, the UN introduced regional quarterly review mechanisms, which are jointly chaired by DPA and UNDP and bring together all relevant UN agencies in New York to discuss pertinent issues and the response of the UN system as a whole. These reviews, which are divided into six different regional formats, consider information from all relevant entities in the UN system and also consult with the respective Resident Coordinators. If the participants of these mechanisms think it necessary, they can bring challenges up to the political leadership level and trigger a decision that is formally carried by the whole UN system.
According to participants in these reviews, their value goes far beyond tangible results. The open discussion format at the meetings allows the creation of a comprehensive picture of a given situation, as insights are drawn from the network of UN entities working in sustainable development, humanitarian aid, human rights, and political analysis. UNDP staff members, for example, reported that they would now consider human rights topics more seriously as a result of these reviews; legislation in certain countries that aims to restrict civil society organizations was mentioned as one particular point of future attention. One interviewee remarked that they were now looking into the levers available to UNDP to urge governments to withdraw such legislation.
Similar coordination mechanisms on the country level took longer to be set up, but are currently in their pilot phase. In one country, where the UN Country Team started these preventive coordination meetings in May 2016, the joint brainstorming in these sessions led to heightened confidence among the representatives of UN agencies involved, one UN official noted. Because of the directness and intimacy of these meetings, participants felt comfortable sharing sensitive observations that they otherwise would not include in formal reports. These positive responses underscore the value of the formats introduced by the HRuF initiative.
Engagement with UN Member States
The early warning mechanisms that the United Nations has established as part of HRuF are restricted to the UN system; member states and civil society organizations do not take part in the discussions. To the degree that these coordination mechanisms lead to a more coherent UN position vis-à-vis host governments, they can still increase the effectiveness of the UN conflict prevention efforts as a whole. UN staff members said, for example, that the UN acted more coherently in the run-up to the 2015 Nigerian presidential election than on previous occasions. This included appointing a designated senior UN official as point person on Nigeria in the Secretariat. The specific impact of the greater UN coherence on the relatively peaceful outcome of the election and change in government remains to be researched.
The increase in informal DPA briefings for the Security Council also demonstrates the new dynamics that the HRuF initiative has brought to how the UN Secretariat deals with member states. There were twice as many such briefings in 2015 compared to the year before. DPA uses the agenda item “any other business” for this purpose, to present member states with background information on countries that may not be on the council’s existing agenda.
Meanwhile, a new format, in which the Secretariat informally briefs the members of the Security Council about the political and human rights dimension of a particular situation, has emerged. These situational awareness briefings were introduced during the monthly presidency of New Zealand in September 2016 and have taken place on a monthly basis since then. The early warning function of these briefings is limited, however, since, at least until January 2017, these briefings only dealt with countries that were already on the council’s agenda.
Problems and Challenges
In light of the high ambition of the initiative, it is not surprising that the cultural change has not taken hold completely. There are structural constraints inherent in UN institutions. The entities in the UN system all take very different approaches to addressing human rights violations. Consider the question of whether, and under which conditions, public advocacy is more effective than quiet diplomacy. The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, which has a mandate to monitor and report all human rights violations, will take a different approach to this question than, for example, the World Food Programme, which depends on humanitarian access. The situation is similar regarding the role of the UN towards host governments. Development agencies like UNDP depend on cooperation, even with authoritarian governments, whose conduct towards civil society OHCHR might publicly criticize. This poses an enduring structural challenge that the UN will have to address over time.
In addition, multiple scandals have plagued the UN even after the introduction of the HRuF initiative, which underline the enduring challenges that the initiative faces. One example is the manner in which different agencies handled information about sexual exploitation and abuse by French soldiers that were part of the UN mandated operation “Sengaris” in the Central African Republic. Instead of taking the information seriously, the UN suspended Anders Kompass, the OHCHR staff member who had passed on evidence to French authorities, after UN channels had failed to respond to his warnings. In language reminiscent of the internal review panel on Sri Lanka, another independent inquiry published in December 2015 spoke of “gross institutional failure” in this case.
Moreover, the decisions of coordination mechanisms are not always easily translated into actionable results. For example, demand for additional peace and development advisors, which UNDP and DPA provide to UN Country Teams upon their request, has grown faster than the quantity of available funds. Currently, there are 39 such advisors deployed worldwide. According to UN officials, an additional $4 million will be required from 2018 in order to cover current demand for eleven more advisors. Such constraints thus remain a significant issue limiting the potential success of the HRuF initiative.
On a similar note, the deployment of UN human rights advisors has proven to be challenging. These are tasked with supporting Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams with a human rights-based approach to development, and in advising them and the host government on the human rights treaty system. Unfortunately, their deployment can take up to 24 months. According to one evaluation, by the time the advisors are ready, the RC that originally requested the additional personnel may have already left the host country, and his or her successor might not see the same demand for a human rights advisor. If UN Country Teams are supposed to put human rights up front, the deployment of human rights advisors needs to be sped up and their management improved.
New Enthusiasm for Prevention
Since taking office, Secretary-General Guterres has started to translate his rhetorical commitment to prevention into a number of specific actions. He restructured the early warning and coordination mechanisms in the UN Secretariat. As a result, the prevention mechanisms have become more integrated since March 2017. Regional reviews now take place on a monthly basis; in addition, the new Deputies Committee that brings together the heads of relevant agencies at the level of assistant secretary-general now also meets on a monthly basis, and has a new standing item on prevention. Decisions can be forwarded to the Deputies Committee and, if necessary, to the Executive Committee, where Guterres and his most senior advisors meet weekly.
Secretary-General Guterres has also announced that he wants to increase the mediation and conflict resolution capacity of the UN. He has commissioned a number of reviews of the peace and security architecture, including on prevention. According to some observers, this reform process might lead to a greater focus on preventive diplomacy, away from expensive and complex peace operations.
Conclusion and the Role of Germany
Have any of these mechanisms and actions contributed to a reduction in human rights violations? In light of the complex nature of international relations, the long causal chains involved, and the high number of actors at play, it is not possible to answer this question unequivocally. International organizations always have a limited influence on intra-state conflicts, and the UN can only mitigate, rather than eliminate, regional rivalries and geopolitical interests. This uncertainty lies in the nature of prevention. A lot depends on a comprehensive and flexible analysis of the situation, the qualifications and courage of leaders on the ground, and the readiness of conflicting parties to resolve their dispute peacefully. At the same time, the UN has definitely improved its capacity to respond to grave human rights abuses, as exemplified by the new mechanisms of the Human Rights up Front initiative.
Member states such as Germany that want to strengthen the role of the UN in the area of prevention need to do their best to ensure that the HRuF initiative and Guterres’s prevention agenda become a success. For that purpose, they can further contribute to the funding of peace and development advisors (Germany is already a donor to the program), promote human rights and prevention in executive boards of UN development agencies, funds and programs, and coordinate closely with Resident Coordinators on the ground on human rights and other political issues.
Germany, which is currently campaigning for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in the 2019–2020 period, should take a leading role in this regard. In the Security Council, it should promote more visiting missions in a preventive function, similar to the mission to the Lake Chad region organized by the United Kingdom in March 2017. It should push the United Nations to hold its senior leaders on the ground to account when they fail to adopt a preventive posture and to empower those UN leaders and staff members that show courage. In doing so, the German government could start to operationalize the high ambitions it set for itself in its recently adopted white paper on crisis prevention, conflict management, and peace promotion.
This is an edited and slightly revised translation of a German article that first appeared in the journal Vereinte Nationen.
Eine konsequente Menschenrechtspolitik hat den demokratischen Wandel in Sri Lanka beschleunigt. Die Verschuldung gegenüber China steht einer Aufarbeitung des Krieges nicht im Wege. Eine Replik.
In seinem Beitrag in der FAZ vom 19. Dezember 2016 (“Gefangen in Chinas Schuldenfalle“) beschreibt Christoph Hein, wie die militärische Unterstützung Chinas während der letzten Phase des sri lankischen Bürgerkriegs das Tor für chinesisch finanzierte Großprojekte eröffnete. „Der Westen pochte auf die Menschenrechte und ließ die strategisch wichtige Insel links liegen“, schreibt Hein. Das ist eine einseitige Darstellung.
Wahr ist nämlich auch, dass westliche Staaten schon lange vor China den sri lankischen Kurs der militärischen Bekämpfung der Rebellenorganisation der Tamil Tigers unterstützten. Das US State Department stufte die Organisation bereits 1997 als ausländische terroristische Organisation ein. Selbst als sich die sri lankische Regierung mit den Tamil Tigers in Friedensverhandlungen befand, durften Rebellenvertreter nicht zu einer Geberkonferenz in Washington D. C. im April 2003 fahren. Die Rebellenorganisation nutzte diese Absage als Vorwand, um ihre Teilnahme an den Friedensverhandlungen auszusetzen.
Nachrichtendienstliche Erkenntnisse der USA und Indiens halfen der sri lankischen Marine, die „schwimmenden Warenhäuser“ der Tamil Tigers im indischen Ozean zu identifizieren und zu zerstören. Bis 2008 lieferten Großbritannien, Tschechien und andere europäische Staaten Sri Lanka Militärfahrzeuge, Kleinwaffen und Granaten.
Spät, zu spät begannen die USA, Großbritannien und Indien, sich bei der sri lankischen Regierung für „humanitäre Feuerpausen“ einzusetzen. Sie standen unter Druck der tamilischen Diaspora bzw. der Regionalregierung in Tamil Nadu. Doch kurz vor dem Ziel ließ sich Präsident Mahinda Rajapaksa nicht aufhalten. Entsprechend perplex reagierte er auf die Forderungen dieser Länder, Vorwürfe massiver Menschenrechtsverletzungen nach dem Krieg aufzuarbeiten. Laut einem bei Wikileaks veröffentlichten US-Drahtbericht vom 18. September 2009 beschrieb Rajapaksa gegenüber der US-Botschafterin, wie der frühere US-Präsident George W. Bush ihn „persönlich ermutigt habe, die Niederschlagung der LTTE (Tamil Tigers) zu verfolgen“. Rufe nach Aufarbeitung fehlte es schlicht an Glaubwürdigkeit.
Chinas Bereitschaft, Sri Lanka mit Infrastrukturprojekten unter die Arme zu greifen, kam gerade recht für Präsident Rajapaksa. Seine Strategie nach dem Krieg sah einen vor allem durch materielle Entwicklung erkauften Frieden vor. Die Regierung investierte zusammen mit internationalen Partnern wie Indien und Japan in Straßen, Eisenbahnverbindungen, Häuser und Elektrizitätsversorgung in den ehemaligen Rebellengebieten im Norden und Osten der Insel.
Im Gegenzug wollte Rajapaksa großangelegte Projekte in den Süden, seine politische Heimat, bringen. Warum sollte China sonst einen ungenutzten Flughafen und einen weitgehend überflüssigen Tiefseehafen in Hambantota finanzieren? Dies waren zuvorderst sri lankische Prioritäten. Chinas Unterstützung für den Hafen kam erst ins Spiel, nachdem Indien abgesagt hatte. Sri Lanka ist kein führerloses Schiff, das hilflos den geostrategischen Interessen von Großmächten ausgesetzt ist.
Weiterhin beschreibt Hein die Entwicklung Sri Lankas nach dem Ende des Bürgerkriegs im Mai 2009 als „Fallbeispiel für das Vordringen Chinas“, dem weder die neue Regierung noch die westlichen Industriestaaten etwas entgegenzusetzen hätten.
Keine Frage, die hohe Verschuldung des sri lankischen Staates, insbesondere bei China, stellt eine große Belastung für den Haushalt dar. Die Verantwortung dafür liegt bei der Vorgängerregierung unter Präsident Rajapaksa. Wegen vorher festgesetzten Vertragsstrafen bei Bauunterbrechung von „Knebelverträgen“ und „Erpressung“ zu sprechen, wie Hein es tut, ist jedoch reichlich hochgegriffen. So manche deutsche Landesregierung kann ein Lied davon singen, dass unliebsame Projekte der Vorgängerregierung aus rechtlichen Gründen und entgegen von Wahlkampfversprechen nicht mehr zu verhindern sind. In einem Rechtsstaat sind Verträge nun einmal einzuhalten.
Rein finanziell können westliche Industriestaaten nicht die gleichen Summen wie China für ein Land, das die Weltbank nicht mehr zu den ärmsten Ländern der Welt zählt, aufbringen. Geld übersetzt sich aber nicht eins zu eins in politischen Einfluss.
Die Situation in Sri Lanka stellt keinesfalls einen geopolitischen Sieg Chinas dar, insoweit solche Kategorien überhaupt einen Erklärungswert besitzen. Weltpolitik ist schließlich kein Nullsummenspiel. Eine Mehrheit der sri lankischen Wahlbevölkerung hat am 8. Januar 2015 eine chinafreundliche Regierung abgewählt. Mahinda Rajapaksa stand für einen zunehmend autokratischen Führungsstil, die Einschränkung des Rechtsstaats, Übergriffe auf religiöse Minderheiten und grassierende Korruption.
Von den USA und Großbritannien organisierte Mehrheiten im UN-Menschenrechtsrat setzten die Regierung seit 2012 auch außenpolitisch unter Druck. Laut Diplomatenkreisen fürchteten sich singhalesische Geschäftsleute bereits vor möglichen US-Sanktionen, unbenommen davon, wie begründet diese Sorgen waren. Eine Isolation von westlichen Staaten, auf welche Sri Lanka unter Präsident Rajapaksa zusteuerte, wollten diese Kreise verhindern.
Nach knapp zwei Jahren im Amt hat die neue Regierung einer großen Koalition unter Präsident Maithripala Sirisena und Premierminister Ranil Wickramasinghe wichtige Reformvorhaben angestoßen. Am 28. April 2015 verabschiedete das Parlament den 19. Verfassungszusatz, welcher die Kompetenzen und Amtszeit des Präsidenten begrenzte. Im September 2015 bekannte sich die Regierung im UN-Menschenrechtsrat zu einem umfassenden Programm zur Aufarbeitung des Bürgerkriegs. Seit dem 5. April 2016 berät das Parlament als verfassungsgebende Versammlung. Das Ziel: eine neue Verfassung, welche Dezentralisierung stärkt und damit zur politischen Lösung des Konfliktes beiträgt. Und im Juli 2016 gab der Internationale Währungsfonds ein Paket im Wert von 1,5 Milliarden Dollar bekannt, das an kontinuierliche Wirtschaftsreformen gekoppelt ist.
China steht diesen Vorhaben nicht im Weg. Vielmehr hat die offensive Unterstützung für die Rajapaksa-Regierung ihr Einfluss gekostet, wie der von Hein erwähnte öffentliche Streit zwischen dem Finanzminister und dem chinesischen Botschafter in Colombo unterstreicht. Diejenigen Staaten, die seit Kriegsende beharrlich auf eine aufgeklärte Menschenrechtspolitik und die Aufarbeitung mutmaßlicher Kriegsverbrechen gesetzt haben, verfügen jetzt über sehr gute Beziehungen zur Regierung.
Die sri lankische Regierung sollte noch mehr tun, um die Aufarbeitung des Krieges voran zu treiben. Insbesondere sollte sie gegenüber der singhalesischen Bevölkerungsmehrheit deutlicher die Notwendigkeit der Aufarbeitung erklären. Um ihren fiskalischen Spielraum zu vergrößern, könnte sie die Grundsteuer anheben anstatt wie bisher die Mehrwertsteuer zu erhöhen. Und sie könnte den Verteidigungshaushalt senken und das Militär verkleinern.
Westliche Industriestaaten wie Deutschland sollten weiterhin denjenigen Kräften innerhalb der Regierung den Rücken stärken, die sich für Aufarbeitung von Unrecht und Reformen einsetzen. Sie sollten sicherstellen, dass die Vereinten Nationen auch nach der nächsten Sitzung des Menschenrechtsrates im März 2017 eine Rolle spielen, die Umsetzung von Sri Lankas eigenen Verpflichtungen zu überprüfen und mit Expertenwissen zu unterstützen. Wenn das geschieht, kann Sri Lanka zu einem Fallbeispiel erfolgreicher Menschenrechtspolitik und nachhaltiger Friedensarbeit werden.
Published on November 12, 2016 on Strife
Photoessay by Gerrit Kurtz
It’s half past five in the morning, but the fast food restaurant at the airport is already open. This is not your typical American fast food chain however. It’s called “Burger City” and can be found all over the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. To the casual observer, the burgers look strangely familiar. One of our guides during this visit to Northern Cyprus explains why– “’Burger City’ is ‘Burger King’ pretending not to be ‘Burger King.’ It cannot open a restaurant under its own brand in the North because of consumer protests in the South,“ he says. Our guide’s explanation reveals an important feature of Northern Cyprus—the battle of perceptions. Mastering the art of pretence is a national sport in Northern Cyprus.
Trying to be a state
Deception is deeply rooted in Northern Cyprus. The statelet in the Eastern Mediterranean is only recognized by Turkey, which has stationed 42,500 troops in the territory. Ever since the abrogation of the power-sharing arrangement by the Greek Orthodox majority in 1963 and the Turkish military intervention in 1974, Cyprus has been divided.
Peace negotiations have been hampered by the unequal status of the of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus enjoys international legitimacy and full EU membership. The unilateral declaration of a Turkish Cypriot state in Northern Cyprus was an attempt to level the diplomatic playing field. Turkish Cypriots seek to gain politically equal status, even though they only make up about a quarter of the South’s population (313,000 to 1.1 million today).
Caught in limbo
Its unrecognised status has skewed the economy of Turkish Cyprus. Green-yellow mandarins and oranges are examples of the delicious produce grown here. But cargo ships in the ancient port of Famagusta cannot deliver these goods anywhere else except through Turkey because of the international embargo imposed on all Northern Cypriot ports and airports following its unilateral declaration of independence in 1983. Heavy regulations also stifle other means of exporting goods that would otherwise be possible. Meanwhile, uncertainty about property rights of land occupied after the 1974 Turkish intervention deter large foreign investors and hamper local production.
Since exporting agricultural and manufactured goods remains difficult, the economy depends more on its service sector. Driving along the central coast to the city of Girne/Kyrenia (many of the cities were given Turkish names after the Greeks fled), bright neon signs announce one of the mainstays of the North’s shadowy service economy–casinos. Eighteen casinos bring in money from the Turkish mainland, from where the majority of their customers hail.
Other economic activities are less problematic. The Turkish Cypriots have discovered a perhaps unlikely source of profits: higher education. Twelve universities currently attract around 85,000 students, with only about twenty percent from the island itself. The universities are connected to the Turkish higher education system, and are cheaper and easier to get into compared with European ones. Quality inevitably varies, but as The New York Timesreported in 2014, for some foreign students, a degree from a Turkish Cypriot university can serve as a springboard for another degree from a western university. With one billion U.S. Dollars, the university sector as a whole contributes a thirdof Northern Cyprus’ GDP.
First impressions can be deceptive
Things are not always what they seem. This is also evident in the historical architecture of Northern Cyprus. Many powers have conquered Cyprus throughout its history, contributing towards its rich architectural heritage, which can be found in large Gothic churches in Famagusta and Nikosia. Built in the 13th century by the crusading Lusignan (French) that ruled Cyprus at the time, they seem somewhat at odds with their surrounding landscape. Indeed, they are the southern-most examples of brick-stone Gothic churches. However, they are not churches anymore. When the Ottomans conquered the island in 1571, they turned many of the existing places of worship into mosques. Before arriving at the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque in Famagusta, one can hear the call to prayer echoing across the square in front of the building.
Yet today, Turkish Cypriots are not very religious; rarely can the mosques in the medieval halls be filled. At a recent evening prayer in Nikosia’s main mosque (that used to be the St Sophia Cathedral), barely thirty people follow the calls of the imam. Across Northern Cyprus, newly built white mosques dot the landscape; smaller ones along the villages, and bigger ones in the cities. These new mosques are a visible sign of the influence of Turkey’s Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which has funded many new mosques in the past fifteen years in Northern Cyprus. They usually remain empty.
The Islamic influence sits uncomfortably with the secular Cypriots, who tend to revere the secularist Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Dozens of statues, busts, and larger-than-life photos of Atatürk attest not so much to the nationalism of Turkish Cypriots, but to their secular, Kemalist antics. Just another sign that first impressions can be deceptive–the display of a Turkish nationalist leader can actually be a sign of tensions with the Turkish mainland.
A Western fast food chain pretending to be a non-branded restaurant, an economy built on dubious entertainment and higher education industry, churches turned into mosques, and a building boom of new mosques giving the impression of a very pious society–all are related to the status of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that pretends to be a state, but lacks international recognition. While the two leaders of the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus have publicly announced that they want to conclude their current negotiations by the end of this year, observers voiced serious questions whether that was possible and whether reunification is a plausible prospect.
Acting as if the situation was temporary but stable has been the North’s practice since the war in 1974. In the meantime, its society has grown more independent. Identities are a matter of construction, as our Turkish Cypriot guide points out: “Towards Turkey, they are more Cypriot, towards the Greeks they are more Turkish, and towards everyone else they are just Turkish Cypriots.“
Gerrit Kurtz is a PhD Candidate at the War Studies Department, King’s College London. He recently attended the Cyprus Course of the Research School on Peace and Conflict Studies by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), of which he is a member. His publications can be found at http://www.gerritkurtz.net.
Die Bundesregierung braucht mehr Diplomaten in Krisenländern. In krisengeschüttelten Staaten kommt diesen eine Schlüsselrolle zu, um die häufig beklagte Lücke zwischen Frühwarnung und entschiedenem Handeln zu überbrücken. Das deutsche Botschaftspersonal braucht eine bessere Vorbereitung, zusätzliche Ressourcen und ein offenes Ohr in der Zentrale.
Innerstaatliche Krisen entstehen in der Regel vor Ort, zwischen polarisierten Eliten einer Gesellschaft oder als Folge einer marginalisierten Opposition. Lange bevor Entscheidungen des Bundestags über den Einsatz militärischer Mittel anstehen, verdichten sich Zeichen, dass unterdrückte Gruppen Frustration anstauen oder scheinbar stabile Systeme vom Wohl und Wehe autoritärer Herrscher abhängig sind. Neben der eher langfristig angelegten Entwicklungszusammenarbeit, welche konsequent konfliktentschärfend ausgerichtet sein sollte, ist der politische Dialog das Kerngeschäft von Diplomaten.
Gute Diplomaten können die Lücke zwischen Warnung und Reaktion schließen
Eine zentrale Herausforderung in der Krisenprävention ist die häufig identifizierte Lücke zwischen Warnung und einer entschiedenen Reaktion. Dabei greifen die Forderungen wie die von Simon Adams auf diesem Blog zu kurz, die lediglich einen stärkeren „politischen Willen“ einfordern und sich auf normative oder historische Gründe berufen, aus denen Deutschland sich stärker engagierten sollte. Die politischen Zielkonflikte um finanzielle und politische Ressourcen sind real, wie Philipp Rotmann in seinem PeaceLab2016-Beitrag feststellt. Hochrangige Besuche des Außenministers oder Anrufe der Kanzlerin bei Staatschefs, die sich gegen die Aufarbeitung von Menschenrechtsverletzungen wehren, müssen abgewogen werden gegenüber dem Einsatz in bereits lodernden Krisenfeuern oder zu innenpolitisch wichtigeren Themen. Investitionen in Krisenprävention sind hochgradig unsicher. Zudem laufen sie Gefahr, die bilateralen Beziehungen mit der jeweiligen Regierung oder involvierten Nachbarstaaten zu beeinträchtigen.
Krisenerprobte Diplomaten können auf Erfahrungen in anderen Ländern zurückgreifen und Gelegenheiten erkennen, Eskalationsspiralen umzukehren und die handelnden Akteure zu einer konstruktiven Streitbeilegung zu ermutigen. Sie können die Regierung oder Oppositionsgruppen mit Nichtregierungsorganisationen in Verbindung setzen, sich mit Konfliktparteien ohne größere politische Aufmerksamkeit treffen und, theoretisch zumindest, dabei mit dem notwendigen Taktgefühl hantieren. Im Gegensatz zu nichtstaatlichen Organisationen verfügen sie mitunter über erhebliches politisches Gewicht und können mit staatlichen Akteuren auf gleicher Ebene verhandeln.
Präventiv tätig zu sein bedeutet jedoch, sich in laufende politische Auseinandersetzungen des betreffenden Landes einzumischen. Hier ist Bedachtsamkeit unabdingbar, um den Konflikt nicht zu verschärfen. Diplomaten werden passende Gelegenheiten, sich einzumischen, nur erkennen und erhalten, wenn sie bereits zu „normalen“ Zeiten ein weites Netz an Kontakten unterhalten, das über die der Regierung nahe stehenden Eliten hinausgeht. Belastbare Beziehungen zahlen sich gerade in Krisenzeiten aus.
Das Botschaftspersonal muss dem sich selbst bestätigenden Kreis von Diplomaten, Unternehmern, Journalisten und Regierungsmitarbeitern regelmäßig entfliehen, um festgefahrene Vorurteile über die politische Dynamik eines Landes aufzubrechen. So waren viele westliche Botschaften während des Umsturzes in Ägypten Anfang 2011 überrascht, dass die Mehrheit der Demonstranten keine Islamisten waren. Die Regierung hatte lange genug davon gesprochen, dass die einzige Alternative zur Herrschaft Mubaraks die Muslimbruderschaft sei.
Auslandsvertretungen brauchen mehr und besser ausgebildetes Personal
Das Auswärtige Amt muss Maßnahmen treffen, um die Auslandsvertretungen zu stärken. Dazu gehört ganz grundsätzlich, Krisenposten ernster zu nehmen und mit ausreichend dauerhaftem Personal auszustatten. Zum Beispiel arbeiten viel zu wenige deutsche Diplomaten vor Ort oder in den Nachbarländern im Irak oder zu Syrien. Darüber hinaus sollten die Leitlinien drei Bereiche stärken: Vorbereitung, Ressourcenbereitstellung und Organisationskultur.
Angehende deutsche Diplomaten genießen eine ausführliche Ausbildung zu Beginn ihrer Karriere. Ein Jahr lang pauken sie am Tegeler See Völkerrecht, volkswirtschaftliche Grundlagen, Konsularrecht, Umgang mit der Presse und Sprachen. Doch krisenrelevante Fähigkeiten kommen häufig zu kurz. Erst dieses Jahr führte das Auswärtige Amt ein Mediationstraining für die Attachés (und ein separates Training für erfahrene Diplomaten) ein. Die Postenvorbereitung wird zu großen Teilen den Betroffenen selbst überlassen. Gespräche mit Länderreferenten und den Vorgängern sind richtig, aber Sprachkenntnisse kommen häufig zu kurz. Kein deutscher Diplomat, keine deutsche Diplomatin sollte in ein arabisches Land geschickt werden ohne zumindest Grundkenntnisse der Sprache zu besitzen.
In vielen Staaten, in denen innerstaatliche Konflikte drohen, verfügt Deutschland nur über kleine oder gar keine Vertretungen (mehr). In größeren Staaten nehmen die sonstigen Beziehungen einen großen Teil der Arbeit ein. Daher ist es wichtig, Auslandsvertretungen im Zweifel mit schnell verfügbaren Ressourcen zu unterstützen:
der Bereitstellung von Expertise und Ausarbeitungen, die über die Kapazitäten eines einzelnen Länderreferenten, der vielleicht noch für mehre Länder gleichzeitig zuständig ist, hinausgehen;
wenn nötig auch der Entsendung von zusätzlichen Mitarbeitern, die gegebenenfalls besondere Fähigkeiten wie Konfliktanalyse oder Mediation abdecken können, oder einfach die Botschaftsleitung entlasten können bei Koordinationstreffen mit anderen internationalen Partnern.
Kleinstprojekte, über deren Vergabe die Botschaften selbst entscheiden können, sind ein weiteres Mittel mit dem Auslandsvertretungen direkt konfliktvermindernde Projekte durchführen können. Die Auswahl der Projekte sollte sich jedoch nicht allein danach richten, welche Organisation die meisten Schlüsselwörter in ihrem Antrag verwendet oder wo man eine Plakette draufkleben kann.
Zuletzt ist eine aktivere diplomatische Präventionsarbeit nicht allein eine Frage der ausreichenden Vorbereitung und materiellen Ausstattung, sondern eine Sache der grundlegenden Einstellung der Diplomaten. Die Leitlinien oder länderspezifische Weisungen der Zentrale können nicht jeden Einzelfall regeln; sie bleiben notwendigerweise abstrakt. Staatssekretäre und Abteilungsleiter sollten eine Organisationskultur fördern, die internen Austausch über Hierarchien und Abteilungen hinweg belohnt, konstruktiv-kritische Berichte ernstnimmt und Eigeninitiative der Auslandsvertretungen gerade im Bereich Krisenprävention anregt. Der Review2014 Prozess hat hier bereits die richtigen Weichen gestellt. Nun gilt es sicherzustellen, dass dieser Wandel auch an den Botschaften umgesetzt wird.
Immer wieder den eigenen Ansatz hinterfragen
Eine aktive diplomatische Rolle in innerstaatlichen Konflikten läuft stets Gefahr, Krisen zu verschärfen, oder doch zumindest zu neuen Problemen zu führen. Zu häufig ist internationales Engagement gekennzeichnet von Stereotypen, Vorurteilen und Templates, obwohl sich Geber weltweit vorgenommen haben, „local ownership“ zu priorisieren. Den eigenen Ansatz regelmäßig zu hinterfragen und Ortskräfte auch in strategische Überlegungen einzubeziehen ist ein wichtiger Anfang – wie auch Cornelia Brinkmann in ihrem PeaceLab2016-Beitrag argumentierte. Am Ende gilt: auch wenn die Einflussmöglichkeiten deutscher Diplomatie begrenzt sind, sollten Diplomaten ihren Spielraum ausschöpfen. Sonst bleiben die hehren Ziele der Leitlinien nur Papier.
I wrote this piece as a summary of our expert workshop and network meeting on “Protection of individuals from harm as a system-wide challenge for the United Nations” that took place in Braunschweig in July 2016. It first appeared on the Junge UN-Forschung Blog.
Securing access to besieged areas of Aleppo, increasing patrols around UN House in Juba, or ending refugee maltreatment in Australian detention centres in Nauru: the protection of civilians from immediate harm is one of the core tasks of the United Nations system. There are few issues for which UN actors are so frequently in the news. Senior UN officials routinely criticize state authorities and non-state actors responsible for violence against civilians. Too often, the UN are in the spotlight themselves because they failed to live up to the expectations and responsibilities related to the protection of civilians, for example at the protection of civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan in February this year.
Research on how to better protect civilians from harm is essential in order to enable the UN to fulfil their charter-based mandate: creating a safer, fairer and more prosperous world for all. In this vein, we organized an expert workshop and network meeting on the common theme „Protecting civilians as system-wide challenge for the United Nations“, which took place from 15 to 17 July at the Technische Universitaet Braunschweig, Germany. It brought together around 20 junior scholars from Germany, Europe, the United States, and Brazil in order to facilitate academic exchange and build a network of scholars around the topic. The workshop was designed to take into account perspectives from three major policy fields: humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and human rights. It took place in the context of the German Association of the United Nations and its working group on young UN research.
At a public panel discussion, a dedicated break-out session and the presentation of our own preliminary research, we discussed the distinction between the three policy fields of humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and human rights, as well as open questions and debates within those fields. As the workshop itself took place under Chatham House rules, we only quote from the public panel discussion, and provide a general sense of the discussion during the rest of the event.
Humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and human rights perspectives
The official definition of protection approved by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) for humanitarian action is much too broad for practical purposes. A tiered, increasingly ambitious understanding of protection is more helpful in that regard: ensuring access to humanitarian aid is the most basic definition of humanitarian protection, followed by ensuring access to protection services. More contentious are the roles humanitarian agencies can play in putting a stop to on-going rights violations, or even in furthering international criminal justice through witness statements and the collection of evidence. For Médecins Sans Frontières, protection frequently equates to really taking the principle of doing no harm seriously, said the director of the agency’s German chapter, Florian Westphal, at the panel discussion. Providing aid to displaced persons must not help armed groups locate them. The public and private advocacy that humanitarian organisations like MSF engage in always needs to make sure that people are actually better protected, even when the agencies want to ensure that they are not being seen as complicit with violations because of their (public) silence, Westphal argued.
UN peacekeeping is a highly political undertaking, even if senior UN officials and member states don’t always recognize it as such, claimed Peter Schumann, former chief of staff of the UN Mission in Sudan and long-term UNDP staff member. As the UN peace operation in South Sudan showed, too often member states create over-ambitious mandates without sufficient resources and political backing to meet the high expectations that the mission will actually protect the population from immediate threats of violence. UN peacekeeping operates largely according to a short-term logic: creating physical security for civilians, responding to their immediate needs. This may sit uncomfortably with the long-term requirement to develop a political strategy, for which the military can create space and which helps the warring parties move to a peaceful way to settle their disputes. Moreover, rhetorical commitments to the effective protection of civilians and national policies of member states in the Security Council as well as of individual troop contributing countries may differ significantly. Germany’s recent evacuation of its police personnel that was supposed to protect women and children as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan was one example mentioned at the workshop.
Human rights agencies have the most long-term perspective of the three policy fields. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), for example stresses not only that states have a primary responsibility to protect their populations from harm (as do humanitarian and peacekeeping actors). The methods OHCHR lists in its most recent management plan aim to enable rights-holders exercise their rights and to build the capacities of duty-bearers to guarantee fundamental human rights. Someone is always bound by human rights, and someone else is always entitled, as the break out group on human rights protection put it. However, some actors put themselves deliberately outside the international legal system, such as the so-called Islamic State or North Korea. Protecting those who defend human rights on the ground is an important, concrete task for international actors such as peace brigades international, said Christiane Schultz, who founded the organisation’s German section. The Committee on enforced disappearances can issue urgent measures, for example, and conduct country visits to raise individual cases and instigate structural change.
Over the three-day workshop, it became clear that protecting populations from harm is a hugely ambitious and complex undertaking. In all policy fields, there are gaps between rhetorical commitments and implementing promises on the ground. There can be differences between individual mandate-holders, national peacekeeping contingents, missions, institutions, and policy fields.
The main impediment to better protection are not the differences about the meaning, methods and objectives of protection per se – they are the natural and inevitable consequence of varying mandates and contexts. Rather, it is the lack of mutual understanding that leads to gaps in the protection architecture. It also misses out on opportunities to jointly tackle common challenges and recognise each other’s complementarity, in full recognition of their distinct mandates. Thus, there is much to learn from each other. Academic and policy exchange on the theme of protecting civilians from harm needs to intensify (for example here).
With conflict causing much political instability and human suffering in parts of the world, there is a need for preventive diplomacy which stops the outbreak, relapse or escalation of organized violence. Frontline diplomats have potentially crucial roles to play in early preventive efforts.
Conflict prevention is popular in international political circles these days. In April 2016, the UN Security Council and General Assembly passed concurring resolutions on the review of the UN peacebuilding architecture in which they confirmed the essential role of the UN in “preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict”. On 5 July, the German Federal Foreign Office launched a public outreach process for the development of new guidelines on civilian crisis prevention, an area for which it increased its funds by 260% from 2015 to 2016 to 248.5 million €. Last year, the British government announced plans to increase its Conflict, Stability and Security Fund from 1 to 1.3 billion pounds by 2019/20.
The political reasoning behind the call for prevention is simple: if the escalation of political disputes into organized violence or even outright civil war can be stopped in its tracks, it not only saves lives, but also keeps refugee flows created by war at bay and helps leaders avoid making difficult and potentially unpopular decisions about whether to launch military interventions to quell conflicts. Despite what seemed like a long-term decline of organized violence, the number of armed conflicts has ticked up again in the past few years: 2014 saw 40 armed conflicts, the highest number since 1999, and 126,059 conflict-related fatalities, the highest number since 1994, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. At the end of 2015, 65.3 million people were either internally displaced or international refugees, the highest number since the Second World War. Yet many UN member states tend to view conflict prevention with suspicion, as they fear international meddling in what they perceive to be their domestic political affairs.
Putting high-flying international commitments to conflict prevention into practice and “sustaining peace” throughout the conflict cycle, as the SC and GA affirmed in their parallel resolutions, requires an astute handling of sensitive matters with intelligence and tact, prudence and patience. In short: diplomacy. While government ministries can, of course, reach out to their foreign counterparts directly and permanent representatives negotiate mandates for international organisations in New York or Geneva, frontline diplomats, i.e. members of the foreign service posted abroad, have potentially crucial roles to play in early preventive efforts. Preventive diplomacy aims at the short- to medium-term prevention of the outbreak, relapse or escalation of organized violence, through both coercive and non-coercive means serving a political purpose. Taking preventive diplomacy seriously requires a different, more active and principled kind of diplomacy. In order to do adjust to this profile, frontline diplomats need to be better equipped, trained, and organisationally empowered.
Frontline preventive diplomacy: benefits and risks
Frontline diplomats may be able to resort to thematic expertise, funds or international networks that they can employ to tweak political dynamics in a country. As some diplomats are repeatedly posted to conflict regions, they may draw comparative conclusions and show domestic parties the risky trajectories of their actions. And diplomats are, theoretically at least, trained in the very skills of facilitation, brokering and negotiation that might be needed to cool down heated tensions.
As the International Crisis Group lays out in an excellent recent report, preventive diplomacy is fraught with dilemmas and considerable challenges. Usually, the elites in a given country carry the main responsibility for the escalation of political conflicts, and even high-level officials of major powers have limited entry points when positions have become deeply polarized and parties are entrenched in a zero-sum logic. As the Crisis Group succinctly observes: “Outsiders must tread carefully when pursuing these goals. All early action involves engaging in fluid political environments. There is a high chance of political friction, with misunderstandings and miscalculations derailing plans. No form of crisis response is neutral.”Frontline diplomats may be able to resort to thematic expertise, funds or international networks that they can employ to tweak political dynamics in a country. As some diplomats are repeatedly posted to conflict regions, they may draw comparative conclusions and show domestic parties the risky trajectories of their actions. And diplomats are, theoretically at least, trained in the very skills of facilitation, brokering and negotiation that might be needed to cool down heated tensions.
Frontline diplomats may grant insurgent groups unwarranted legitimacy simply by meeting them. Officially mediating between parties may raise expectations about peaceful conflict resolution, that, when disappointed, may embolden domestic actors to pursue their goals by violent means. Short-term goals of stabilization may conflict with long-term goals of democratisation and transitional justice. Thus, preventive engagements must be based on continuing political analysis and do-no-harm principles.
A different diplomacy
More fundamentally, an active pursuit of conflict prevention requires a different kind of diplomacy. Conventionally, diplomats pursue a narrowly conceived “national interest”, acting on explicit instructions from the capital. They concentrate on the governing authorities as official partners in their bilateral relations. As a result, their engagement is reactive and ad hoc, while preventive diplomacy requires a forward-looking and principled approach, as David Hamburg already wrote in 2003.
“I am not the person who sits all day at the office. I want to see how people live out there,” is how German Ambassador to South Africa Walter Lindner introduces himself in a video message on the embassy’s website. It sums up the kind of spirit diplomats need to embrace are they to further the ambitious objective of conflict prevention. Christopher J. Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya murdered in 2012, represented the skills of a “guerrilla diplomat” (Daryl Copeland): multilingual, frequently speaking to people on the street, and showing respect and compassion for local cultures, traits which President Obama highlighted in his speech at the UN General Debate in September 2012.
Yet these diplomats are usually seen as “unconventional”. If governments want to take their stated objective of crisis prevention seriously, they need to embrace the following policies that support and empower their agents in the field. Political leaders and senior officials need to foster an organisational culture that grants ambassadors and other frontline diplomats more autonomy, based on frequent reporting on their activities. Leaders need to highlight bold behaviour, even when diplomats encounter hostility from host governments despite their most sensitive efforts; rewarding best practices can start horizontal socialization processes. Ministries need to provide frontline diplomats with the authority to quickly disperse small development funds and include them in internal discussions on government-wide country strategies.
Lastly, they need to offer training to their diplomats in conflict analysis, mediation and critical thinking. The German Federal Foreign Office, for example, only started to provide dedicated mediation courses to its attachés and more senior diplomats a few weeks ago. Similarly, a recent reform report of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office argued to increase training in stabilisation and mediation as core skills for diplomats posted to fragile areas. Many intra-state conflicts are based on disputes within a country’s political elite; foreign diplomats trained in peace mediation may be able to facilitate conversations between polarized parties. As external third parties, they may help local stakeholders to identify mutually acceptable ways that lead out of their conflicts.
Historically, Western biases and wilful ignorance of domestic politics and cultures have marred international engagement in conflict prevention and resolution. A healthy dose of scepticism towards a renewed push for preventive diplomacy is therefore warranted. Diplomats need to overcome a rigid binary of local stakeholders whose actions need to be prevented and international actors who conduct preventive diplomacy.
If foreign services embrace a bolder, innovative style of (preventive) diplomacy that rewards local sensitivity, autonomy and innovation, however, they may improve the implementation of their foreign policy overall. Frontline diplomats need to travel in their host country extensively, collecting information about local grievances through first-hand observation. They need to reach out to the host population directly, through personal use of social media, as many British diplomats already do. And they need to maintain reliable relationships with key political actors that continue to function in crisis situations. If diplomats do that, they will find that an increased attention towards conflict prevention entails benefits – a deeper understanding of elite politics, influence beyond the capital and credibility with a broad spectrum of a country’s society – that continue to exist when a crisis ends.